May 2008

Don’t Know Your Cavern from a Hole in the Ground? Check Out these Cool California Caves in an Audi A6

For free educational materials for students, parents, and teachers go to

If you have ever been accused of not knowing what a hole in the ground is, and who hasn’t, this is the summer to rectify that educational oversight by visiting some of coolest places in California, the State’s unique caves.

To start this trip we pointed the Audi A6 sedan with its all wheel drive and 350 horsepower V8 toward Los Angeles. This is a spacious car with a stunning interior, gets 22 mpg on the highway, and has a great Bose stereo. There are airbags everywhere and the big brakes and eager suspension make mountain travel easy. The satellite radio made travel in the deserts more pleasurable as most AM/FM stations don’t cover that area. We were pleased with the tight turning radius and good visibility, but the most pleasing part of using this Audi was that the entire family had room to sit comfortably and you could turn up the surround sound stereo to drown out the whining about why the dog couldn’t come.

Seeing the caves of California requires a bit of research as there are many and some are just too tight for the middle-aged masses. The best places we found were online and are listed at the end of this article. Two elements to consider are whether you want to go look at the caves or really explore the caves by crawling through them as a real spelunker. Either way this is an entraining and educational adventure.

The closest cave to PCH is also one of the biggest movie stars in the world with over 40 screen credits to its credit. Bronson Cavern is really just a short tunnel, but it has been the setting star of television mainstays as Batman and move blockbusters such as Roger Corman’s The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules was filmed. Now that is status. To get there take either Bronson or Canyon Avenues from Franklin into Griffith Park. When the road ends you can hike up the unpaved road and on the right you shall behold the famous site. If Batman isn’t in the cave you might want to check out Wayne Manor at 380 S. San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena.

Heading north we experienced the Audi’s relatively quiet highway ride as we headed toward the Crystal Cave in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. It is considered a very impressive cave that is has about 10,000 feet of passages and inspiring spelothem. Marble Hall, the centerpiece of the cave, is 175 feet long and 60 feet wide. There are tours run by the Sequoia Natural History Association that take about an hour and include viewing of the Organ Room and Dome Room.

In the same general area, and considered one of the best caverns to visit, is Moaning Caves in Vallecito. It is huge and, as you might have gathered, makes a moaning sound. Features include a huge main chamber, a rope descent, and activities for all ages. Located near Calaveras, this is a must visit and is fun and educational.

Want to visit Middle Earth? Check out the California Cavern, the first cave opened to the public about 150 years ago. It is close to Angels Camp and has unique crystalline formations. Some speleothems, such as the beaded helictites found in the Middle Earth area are said to be quite rare. Another cave worth visiting is Black Chasm featuring an enormous Landmark Room with stalactites, stalagmites, and exceptional helictite crystals.Gemstone mining for the children is also offered. Located in Volcano, California.

Sutter’s gold mine is especially interesting in that it is close to the Lincoln Mine from which Leland Stanford extracted his money to finance the Central Pacific Railroad and Stanford University. It is located near Camptonville. The Sixteen to One Mine is a working a museum and mine and is extends well over 1000 feet below the sunshine. You experience first hand a miner’s existence at this cave. Located in Alleghany, California.

For those who are into the exotic, try visiting the Lake Shasta Caverns. In order to see them you need to take a boat ride and a bus ride to see these, but neither one takes much time. You catch the boat at the marina that takes you across the lake where a bus follows the road to the cavern site on the side of the mountain. Inside there are stalactites and stalagmites and those flowing speleothems in this 200 million year old cavern. North of Redding.

Lava Beds National Monument is dramatic with its Medicine Lake Volcano location, said to be the largest mountain in the Cascade Range. There are over 300 caves here and the National Park Service has been known to even lend you a “torch” to explore those that are not off-limits. You can drive the Cave Loop and park in front of the various cave entrances. Bring plenty of water, a good flashlight, and gloves and kneepads if you want to creep though some of the tubes. Skull Cave is interesting as there is usually ice in it. Golden Dome Cave has an abundance of fungus and Hopkins Chocolate Cave, Sentinel Cave, and Valentines Cave are all of note, but Catacomb Cave is the largest and one of the more difficult. Bring your best crawling clothes to truly appreciate Mother Nature’s underground artistry. Located near Tulelake, California

If those are too far north try Mushpot Cave is located beneath Indian Well Visitor Center, at the southern end of the Monument. This tube is lighted during business hours of the visitor’s center and contains exhibits about lava tube geology. All other tubes are in a more or less natural state. If it is open Fern Cave is worth a reservation to visit to for nothing else to see ferns growing near the entrance and the 10 pictograms said to be from around the year 1000.

Mitchell Caverns has El Pakiva, Tecopa Cave, and Winding Stair Cave and are famous for some rare speleothemes. It is a long walk so be prepared, especially in the Mojave Deserts summer. Guided tours last over an hour and the cave’s limestone stalagmites finally give you a chance to see what you studied in elementary science class. About 60 miles from Needles.

Scattered around the state are a number of caves worth mentioning starting with Pluto’s Cave, a popular exploration spot with plenty of spelunking practice areas. Pluto is located north of Weed, California.La Jolla has seven sea caves can be reached by a tunnel from the Cave Store or by kayak. Used for a variety of movies, one of the caves even leads to the sea.

On the way home we visited Shell and Pismo Beach and the sea cavern under Dinosaur Caves Park. It is located just off Highway One. The caves are best viewed at sea level and you can rent a kayak. There is a fenced off hole in the ground where you can get a partial look down into the cave, but the view from sea level is the best and a great way to end our journey. The Audi was an excellent choice and with a base price of just over $43,000 a good value for the base sedan.


The Car Family’s favorite was Moaning Cave that gave everyone the opportunity to learn rappelling by going down the165 feet into the huge main chamber of the cave and caused us to rename the cavern, Screaming Cave.

Websites with directions and specifics about caves:


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Audi RS 4: A Tour de Fast

Audi has emerged as the most improved European car manufacture in the 21st Century thanks to its desire to please both the speed freaks and comfy craving buyers. At the top of that list is the RS4, which is simply the best Audi sports sedan ever. The problem is that unless you are a car buff you aren’t going to notice this escapee from the land of high-speed fantasy on your local roads. Its looks are nearly identical to the 200 horsepower Audi 4, which at $29,000 price tag is fully $40,000 less than the RS4. In other words buying a $70,000 RS4 isn’t for those seeking attention, but by those who want to own one of the world’s truly great high speed touring sedans.

There are a few other notable world-class sporty sedans such as the BMW M3, Mercedes C-Class AMG, perhaps the Cadillac CTS-V, and the Lexus FS. However, truth be told, the Audi RS 4 is a better vehicle. The reason isn’t just the horsepower, but the luxurious interior treatments, all wheel drive stability, and relaxed V8 engine that can get deliver 26 mpg on the road if you can hold it to legal speeds. Its only drawback is a manual transmission shifter that does not like to be rushed.

Since there are only a handful of these playful sedans being built by Audi the potential buyer might be forced to make a quick decision without considering all the facts. After all, it is nice to have a family oriented hot car that can terrorize BMW drivers or chug along at “rush” hour with equal ease, but do you really need a V8 engine that can be whipped to unleash 420 horsepower?

The base Audi A4 with CVT yields fantastic fuel mileage, provides 200 turbocharged horsepower, and is comfortable to drive. It costs $29,000. Rather have a V8, well the S4 costs $50,000 and has a similar sized 4.2-liter V8 engine that makes 340 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 302 pound-feet of torque at 3,500. What do you get for the extra $20,000? Cachet, yes, both more notable is a more dynamic sedan with huge brakes, an engine that revs to 8200 rpm and sounds just like a jet turbine, and a suspension system that is pot hole friendly as well as race track ready. It is amazing, but realistically with just 1000 or so planned for production it might be a moot point. Obviously, most people are going to go for he S version and pocket the difference. Too bad, as they aren’t going have the adventure of driving a racecar to work.

The RS4 is that rare type of car that enjoys terrorizing BMW owners or just chugging along during “rush” hour with equal aplomb. What is does not offer is a lot of what we call “splay” room. That is the space that allows the driver’s leg to rest against the center console while the other is on the dead pedal. The A4 is too tight meaning that your accelerator-controlling limb rests at an odd angle. Other that this is one sweet chariot.

Mom’s view: The clutch has a high take-up point and the transmission linkage can get hung up between gears at high rpms if you don’t practice a lot. Of course, this is the type of practice most people prefer over piano lessons or math tutoring.

Crash scores were good as one can imagine with huge disc brakes that have eight pistons for each front disc brake and four brake pads, an Electronic Brake pressure Distribution feature, have special flow vents to cool them and measure over 14.4 inches in front and 12.8 in the rear as well as side and front airbags most everywhere, front and rear seatbelt pretensioners, rear door child safety locks child seat anchors, a remote anti-theft alarm system engine immobilizer, daytime running lights xenon high intensity discharge headlamps, tire pressure monitoring, headlamp washers front, head rests with whiplash protection, and speed sensitive rack-and-pinion steering. These are the only brakes that I have tested that provide more feedback and whoa power than the BMW. They are unbelievable and, as mom always says, wipe your brakes when they are wet and that it what this Audi does automatically.

The interior is a little too sporty for my tastes with red piping stitching together the nice black leather. The seats are fairly comfortable but aren’t in the same category as the Saab, and it is difficult to get your hand between the door and the seat to reach the 8-way power adjustments and lumbar support. There is also heated seats that work well, but not in the same league as the Subaru or Saab. The rear seats are split folding and yield a large and very usable cargo area. The trunk is easy to open with a nice handgrip. The usual power features are here as well as one touch power windows all around and heated outside mirrors. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes and has a nice feel to it. There are also 12-volt outlets in front and back and dual zone climate controls. An active interior air filter, and easy to reach controls abound. You think with all this good stuff Audi would have taken the time to make a gearshift knob that wouldn’t burn your hand when the weather was hot, but they didn’t. The steering wheel and the gearshift are scorching to the touch. Be warned and cover them with a towel. And this is a $71,000 car.

There are carbon fiber trim elements, but the basic interior is understated and has elegance to it with quality materials and workmanship evident. The storage areas are easy to access and the glove compartment is adequate. The red needles in the gauges are a bit overwhelming at night and could be more restrained. Copying the Lexus wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Driving this tart is a study in self-control. Acceleration is seamless rather than awesome. It is much like a jet airplane at take-off. Plenty of thrust, but not Mercedes AMG like where the chassis actually shutters as the engine’s torque twists the frame and the engine bellows its challenge. The RS4 is more refined, but just as fast.

The brakes are unbeatable, the handling so reassuring that you start to believe it is really you and not the car that makes corners melt, and the looks of the car are so non-threatening that you don’t attract unwanted attention. That being said, this is the best looking super sedan although the front spoiler is too low for practical users. The 19-inch wheels need flared fender wells and the integrated rear spoiler don’t shout boy racer as much as subtle.

I love this car. You can lug it down to 1500 rpm in sixth gear and it doesn’t kick. Take it to the grocery store and it is hospitably. Park it at work and your boss wouldn’t look twice. And, after work, you can relieve the tension right about when you hit third gear. A hoot to drive.

Dad’s view: A little tight for me, but oh that engine. With 420 horsepower this V-8 can stay on task until you reach 8250 rpm or achieve lift-off. And, the push you into your seat torque comes to play at just over 2000 rpm and stays with you until 7600 rpm. This is not your uncle’s Audi A4S. In fact, it is an entirely different engine. You can get to 60 mph in under five seconds, but the real fun isn’t its acceleration, but in the completeness of the package. Yes, it is fast and yes, it stops well, but it does all of this while treating the passenger and drive with respect. Need you forget, the all wheel drive system and the suspension are the hidden jewels as they perform miracles in getting a 4000 pound sedan to act like its at 2000 sports car.

The suspension and the Quattro all wheel drive system has been extensively modified. The rear wheel bias has been dialed in with a 60:40 setting as standard and the ability to transfer all the power where it is needed and there is a built in stability control unit, too. The front four-link and rear double wishbone set-up have been augmented by a hydraulically controlled value system that sets the suspension for the type of terrain the RS4 is passing over. If can soften or tighten the shock absorbers and the result is a much better ride than the competition over a variety of surfaces that Audi calls it Dynamic Ride Control. In other words under braking doesn’t upset this Audi and pitch and roll are negated. All of this in a car where its large V8 engine is essentially placed ahead of the front axle which results in an unbelievable 58/42 weight distribution. In another car this would be a recipe of understeering disasters. Not in the RS4. In fact, Audi offers a two-step ESP unit where the first phase kills traction control and the second the entire stability control program. Don’t even think about it. You need all the electronic help you can as this car is much more hefty than it feels.

My biggest surprise with the RS4 was the engine. Although displacing as much as that in the S4 it is more sophisticated and the extra 90 horsepower over its stall mate is more refined. The 32-value powerplant has 12.5:1 compression rating and even with its amazing 7800-rpm power peak is still tractable on the street. Whereas previous Audi hotrods have used turbos and thus had a lot of midrange punch and not much after 5500 rpm, the RS4 just keeps on giving. At idle the sound is just a touch blurby, but once up to operating speed it sings. Of course, if you hit the S button on the dash it open a value in the side of the exhaust pipe and the result can be felt as well as heard. It is best not to touch the S button anywhere near law enforcement.

Despite moving the battery to the trunk and other weight saving strategies such as using the extensive use of aluminum, the Audi is over 500 pounds heavier than a BMW M3. You notice that extra weight when cornering, but not in the real world. The Lamborghini sourced brakes, large tires, and altered Torsen differential make the Audi feel far more connected to the road. However, the Audi ride can wear thin over poorly maintained roads.

Overall, this is a very compelling sedan. Certainly there is no doubt the model shall be sold out, but for me the seats weren’t all that comfortable, I didn’t have enough room to spread out when driving, and the high clutch pick-up made it easy for smooth starts, but difficult to judge when aggressively driven. And, why else would you buy this model?

Unemployed woman’s view: I liked the look of the dark rims and the two large tailpipes were quite dramatic, but what stole my heart was how obedient this sedan was. Once you master the clutch it doesn’t seem to care what gear you are in it is ready to romp or just roll along. A sweetheart of a disposition. The RS4 sits a bit lower than the A4 and this is great for stability, but makes steep driveways a concern. I loved the idea of the RS4, but for the money I would buy the S4 and save the $20,000 and my friends would never know.

Recently graduated male’s view: The sound system is a disappointment. The AM/FM in-dash stereo holds six CDs with MP3 Playback. The ten speakers just don’t provide a quality sound and the radio reception is sub par. The volume is speed sensitive and there is also a Sirius satellite radio. The controls are not that easy to operate at speed and the readouts are difficult to see in bright sunlight. If everyone could copy the one in the Hyundai Santa Fe the world would be a better place. The look of the RS4 is special, but unless you truly want to be different than really isn’t a good reason outside of a race track to consider this Audi. Personally, I like the A4 just fine and with the price of gas rising it would suit me better as my college loans are just waiting to come due. A great driving car, no doubt, but one that appeals more to the seat of the pants than the pocketbook.

Family conference: For $71,000 we expected a more furious vehicle that would unleash the horsepower dogs of war with more shock and awe. We also expected a better sound system, standard GPS, and not to have to worry about burning your hand on the gearshift. The air-conditioning was also hard pressed when the temperature went over 100 degrees. That being said, this is an elegant, if sedate, super sedan that may be related to the A4 and A4S but barely. It is a high-speed racecar and family-touring vehicle in one. If you can justify the cost and living with a 16.6 gallon gas tank that limits you to 250 miles between fill-ups on premium fuel more power to you; literally and figuratively.

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Piaggio MP3 400: Not just a third wheel

By The Car Family

Call it a case of love at first site, but this is the coolest scooter ever. That feeling was reinforced with our inital ride as this $8700 trike is built with safety in mind featuring a range of technology that assuages one’s fears of driving a 540-pound vehicle in traffic thanks to Piaggio’s innovative use of two small front wheels instead of one to increase stability and braking.

The MP3’s 400 cc engine has liquid cooling with electronic injection that pushes out 34 horsepower, but isn’t quick to accelerate. If you want more scoot you should order the 500 cc model. If you want to save money the 250 cc is ideal, although freeway driving stretches its horsepower limit. We would stick to the 400 for most users as it makes sustained highway driving possible. For those who ride with a partner or in the mountains the 500 is a strong recommendation especially since it only costs about $300 more, but you must add an optional luggage carrier as there is very little storage room.


The MP3 400

Riding the MP3 takes a while to master as it handles differently than two wheeled bikes. It resists quick moves more and when cornering over rough surfaces there is a secondary bump as the second front tire hits the impediment. This impact tends to straighten out the bike, but it is easily compensated for and would only be a problem in competitive racing. For the street this Piaggio is pretty near perfect and safe.

While riding in the mountains I entered a high-speed corner and encountered gravel that had slipped onto the roadway. Normally this would be an invitation to disaster, but the Piaggio’s two front wheels, acting almost like a locking differential in a car, were able to find secure footing and the corner passed effortlessly. When one wheel slipped, the other found traction. Very reassuring.

Despite this noble handling trait, the most wondrous feature of the MP3 is that this scooter can balance itself. It is a marvel. When you come to a stoplight all you do is activate the leveling switch and the scooter remains upright. As you accelerate when the light changes the stability control automatically turns off. Even though there is a kickstand you can use the stabilizing system when you park your MP3, too. Just make sure the parking brake has been activated.

I found myself trying to rationalize the $8700 price for the 400 and it didn’t take too much to convince me that this is one trike that the whole family could enjoy. Perhaps not the whole family as Piaggio has clearly labeled the storage area as not for pets so there goes that idea.

Under the MP3’s seat is a large and easily accessible storage area that can hold two helmets and more. There is also a rear hatch that is pops open when you activate the key fob in much the same fashion as a car trunk. Very trick. Please note that the 500 does not have the optional rear “trunk.” On the other hand, opening the larger storage area under the driver’s seat takes practice, as you have to reach under the cushion and pull it up afer unlocking it by using the key fob or .pushing in the ignition switch. The latter takes practice. Regardless, there is more storage space here than on any scooter we have tested to date and when you add such other features as not having a clutch, foot brake, transmission gear selector, or kick-starter the MP3 easily ranks as the simplest scooter to operate.

Very Large MP3 Cargo Bay

There are some negatives. The windshield is a bit too low and so a great deal of wind buffets you at speeds over 40 mph. Since you sit upright there is no escaping the wind stream, as it is very difficult to lean forward due to the short driver’s seat. A taller shield is advisable for high-speed use, but would undoubtedly cut down on the scooter’s estimated 92-mph top speed. The turn signals don’t cancel. This is a major annoyance as a small flashing green light in the console is all that reminds you that they are activated. As well, the glass covering the gauges is at an angle that does little to prevent glare and makes reading the information difficult with polarized lenses and/or bright sunlight. The MP3’s “mode” button is unneeded as all of its functions, temperature and trip odometer could be placed where the speedometer is and a large, digital speedometer could occupy its niche in the center of the console. Placing the turn signal switch where the mode button is would make it much easier to activate than its current position low on the left hand part of the handle bar. A grab handle to pull the seat up to gain access to the storage bin underneath would also be appreciated. The night lighting is adequate with good side illumination, but there is a dark shadow in the center that is disconcerting.

Very Limited MP3 500 Storage Space

Other concerns are smallish rearview mirrors, indicator lights that should be LEDs, a lack of a good seal on the rear storage area, and not enough leg room for taller riders. Of these the latter is my only real complaint about the MP3. The passenger did not have these complaints, but did note that under braking the seat surface was a bit slippery.

On the plus side the gas cap is hidden under a cover and is controlled by pushing the key into the ignition switch and turning it. The cover is centered between the two foot rests and is ideally located. If you spill any gas it does not ruin the finish of the bike and there is even an overflow pipe that directs the precision fluid to the ground. Very nice touch as is the light in the cargo area. There is also a clock and a lockable helmet flange on this very deluxe scooter.

Under the unique bodywork is a single cylinder, liquid cooled, powerplant that uses electronic port injection to squirt unleaded fuel through the four valves and move the hefty scooter along at a steady rate through a drive shaft. It is not fast, but the 400 keeps up with traffic thanks to Piaggio’s CVT unit that distributes the power to the 14-inch rear wheel. A nice feature of the MP3’s design is that the air pressure in all the wheels can be checked without removing any body parts. Braking, which is very good, is handled by disc brakes on both front wheels and a third disc for the drive wheel.

MP3 500: Not Just Another Pretty Face. Notice black windscreen


Not a Pretty Face

The real story here is the front suspension. The front wheels are synchronized to provide stability thanks to the cast aluminum arms and hinges attached to the central tube with suspension pins and ball bearings. Forget the explanation, it works is all that is important.

Driving this scooter requires the ability to relax. The MP3 likes to go straight and even tries to ignore your initial attempt to turn it if you treat it timidly. In skilled hands this Piaggio is terrific fun and you can lean it into a turn far more than any scooter that I have ever tested. The MP3 would be great in a trick rider’s hands as its extra stopping power makes it possible to lift the rear end off the ground and its balance and stability make any type of extreme riding simpler. I can even envision some dishonest cad disabling the five-mile per hour limit on the upright stabilizing mechanism and doing endless tricks while it politely goes straight down the track. Of course, that would be very wrong.

The MP3 gets the looks from all ages. Unfortunately, some people judge by appearances and they find the Piaggio’s Darth Vadarish front look strange instead of futuristic. Too bad that they don’t understand that beauty is more than skin deep. This is a scooter for those who like the idea of driving a safe vehicle with better braking, handling, and storage than more traditional bikes.

Family conference: The MP3 comes in a variety of colors, but looks most fearsome in black. The seats are also black and quite comfortable, albeit they could be longer for taller riders. The muffler is too low and can scrape if you lean into turns aggressively, and the three-gallon tank could be enlarged for longer tours. The awkward ergonomics become less of a problem as you grow familiar with this motor trike.

The bottom line is that we would buy this scooter it is that good even if we don’t know about build quality, resale, service costs, or what futuristic scooter Honda has waiting in the wings. We also realize the declining dollar might make parts expensive, but for us this is the most comfortable, easy to drive, and easy to love scooter made. The fact we got nearly 70 miles per gallon just adds to the fun. Now, if we can just learn to live knowing we can’t smuggle a cat into the enclosed storage bin.

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Vocabulary Builders

These sites provide ways for a teacher to provide lessons to accommodate a variety of reading levels easily. They are especially valuable to ESL students and slower learners who need additional practice outside the realm of the textbook. The large link sites are very useful.

Phonics Links

Motivating Students

Read Across America links

ESL lessons

Downloadable books

Help for slow learners

Strategies for motivating young readers

Vocabulary Games>
Self made cards for online vocabulary building. Takes a while to master, but allows individualized lessons and provides hints.

Several lessons about vocabulary games. Simple and of wide range of quality.

Using Podcasts to improve vocabulary

Very large link site

Teacher designed lessons

Basic, but a good variety

Spelling and vocabulary links page

Free technology lessons

Use the Internet to help with vocabulary

Everyday Vocabulary Anagrams

Lots of them.

Reading novel studies on over 20 books.

Check the list. This is a great site for better readers and helps them polish their skills without a great deal of teacher time.

Grammar and Vocabulary Assessment Tests
Have your more advanced students take them to see where they can improve. One hour time limit.

Web English Teacher  
Large general link site for all areas of English teaching.
Fake Out Game
Students select the correct definition from list. Good practice to polish prefix and suffix skills.  SAT Words

Illustrated Vocabulary
For English, French, Dutch and Danish words.

Newest Bicycles

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Do the words Schwinn, Raleigh, Huffy, Murray, Roadmaster, and Western Flyer bring back fond memories? Well what was old is new again as the inventiveness that fostered the velocipede and hobby horses of the 18th Century has been revived. Carbon fiber frames, aluminum hubs, and hydraulic disc brakes have replaced handlebar streamers, ding dong bells, and banana seats as the bicycle industry has created some of most technology advanced products this side of NASA. The Wright Brothers would be proud.

Of course this is the 21st Century and that technology costs dearly. Even the best selling Schwinn Cruiser Alloy SS is $300. An EB Lite 8 designed for easy mounting is $750. You’ll need $900 for the Sierra Tandem, and if the legs and lungs aren’t what they used to be there is a $2000 electric motor assisted Schwinn Continental. If you really want to feel the wind in your hair there is everything from a $8,249.99 Trek Madone 5.9 SL, to a $22,000 carbon fiber framed Parlee.

In bicycle terms the more you pay the less you get; in weight that is. You can spend a thousand dollars to shave five ounces from a road bike to get to the racing limit of about 15 pounds. Even on street bikes $2000 carbon fiber cranks and $300 handlebars are becoming commonplace. Regardless of price bicycles are an environmentally friendly form of transportation with a rider on level ground able to travel 10 mph with the same energy expenditure as a person walking. Add to that the fact riders usually burn more than 400 calories an hour so that breakfast bike jaunt can easily burn off a bagel and cream cheese or Grande Caffe Latte with whole milk. In fact, bicycling can consumer as much energy as aerobics and the scenery is usually better.

Local bicycling isn’t all sun in the face and smell the ocean air friendly. The FBI reported one million cycles were stolen in 2006. This has creating the need for such businesses as Santa Barbara’s BikeStation where bikes can be stored by commuters and others. There are also the dangers posed by Pacific Coast Highway traffic with its narrow shoulders, oversized vehicles, distracted cell phone users, and construction. Thus having a safe helmet and a properly sized bicycle is important. Several manufacturers, such as Greg Townsend’s, make custom bikes based on the rider’s measurements and they are worth every penny. These bicycles can express one’s individuality both artistically and technically as every component, from the handle bars to the brake pads, can be ordered to fit specific driving habits and wallet thickness.

The larger manufacturers are also producing some unique products that include seats that are hollowed out to store cell phones and iPods, reflective rims, internal generators to power front and rear lights, drum brakes, and automatic gear changers. Some models offer foldability that enables a full size bike to fit in a 26-inch case. There are also bicycles that have a battery powered motor to help riders overcome steep grades and stiff headwinds. The ultimate is the Colorado manufactured Optibike OB1 priced at $13,000. This Opti is unique in that can be used as mountain and road bike being equipped with hydraulic disc brakes, multiple gears, and a motor running on 800 or so watts of electric power should you tire or need a burst of speed to avoid dangerous situations. All of this is monitored by an instrument panel full of readouts. These types of bikes make it easier for those with physical limitations such as bad knees and hips to experience the joy of cycling without the pain and are also ideal for amateurs who want to do off road riding or just stay out of harm’s way at stoplights. If your work less than 20 miles from home the Optbike can get you there and back with very little pedaling needed. And, since over 93 percent of bicycles are made overseas, it is nice to support the home team can build.

Before you buy any cycle find a dedicated bicycle shop such as Stan’s in Monrovia where you can buy an autographed Eddy Merckx lightweight bike for about $8000 or ask technicians about the best bicycle for your needs.

New bikes are far more sophisticated than that old Schwinn Sting-Ray so you may need professional done repairs. Next, ascertain where you are going to be riding. There are road, fitness, mountain, and comfort categories of bicycles and many subcategories such as recumbent and extreme cycles. Road versions are normally the most expensive and can be used for racing. Mountain bikes are beefier, with more durable rims and larger tires, and can have very sophisticated suspension components for riding over unpaved canyon trails. Comfort bikes and commuter bikes are usually the least expensive and the heaviest with fewer features. These include the ubiquitous beach cruiser and beginner bikes. Finally, be aware that you can get a traffic citation just as easily riding a bike as driving a car so ride wisely and always carry identification.

To relive those two wheeling days of yesteryear and that yearning to be free from parking restrictions and rising fuel costs visit your local bike store and test ride the cure. Don’t forget to check out the latest cycle fashions, too. Remember it’s not the bike it is the rider. Or perhaps just as importantly, how the rider looks on the bike. After all, this is Malibu.

Greg Townsend Custom Bikes

Jax Bicycles

Schwinn bikes

Stan’s Bike Shop


Some good bike links

Find the perfect bike trip.

Type in the area and this Google Earth assisted site shows you a great bike journey.

League of American Bicyclists

California bicycle coalition

How Much Do Bicycles Pollute